Is a Low Body Fat Percentage Unhealthy for Men?

Written by wilhelm schnotz
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Is a Low Body Fat Percentage Unhealthy for Men?
Low body fat percentages may yield health problems. (male runner image by jimcox40 from

The risks associated with being overweight are well documented in the health care and athletic fields, but specific information about the dangers for men who are underweight isn’t nearly as widespread. Although fitness and nutrition should be encouraged, men must realise that pushing their body fat percentage too low may have significant negative effects on their health.

Body Mass Index

If you haven’t undergone a body composition test, the easiest way to determine if you’re underweight is through a Body Mass Index, or BMI, calculation. This test indexes your body composition using your height and weight in a mathematical formula to determine your body composition. While BMIs between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered healthy, men whose BMI dips below 18.5 are clinically underweight, according to Harvard Medical School. While BMI measures are accurate for most people, the amount of muscle in your body and the size of your frame aren’t considered, making it a slightly less reliable index than other means, according to the College of the Canyons’ Health Services.

Body Composition

A body composition test is much more accurate than BMI in measuring the amount of fat on your body. Different styles of tests -- skinfold measurements, underwater weighing and electronic tests -- measure the amount of your bodyweight that’s made up of fat. A body composition of less than 5 percent is considered to be underweight, according to California State University at Fresno.

Essential Fats vs. Storage Fats

Your body uses fat in two different ways. The first way, storage fat, distributes fat around the surface of the body. Although it provides thermal, or heat, insulation, it also offers your body a warehouse of energy in case of famine conditions. Essential fats are the fats inside your organs, in the marrow of your bones and in portions of your nervous system, and are vital in the proper functioning of these systems. When a man’s body fat dips below 5 percent, these fats reduce to levels lower than your body needs to function.

Side Effects

Once your body fat percentage dips below 5 percent, you also face the increase risk of several other health problems, including anemia, heart irregularities, a suppressed immune system, osteoporosis and an increased amount of time necessary to heal wounds.

Gaining Weight

Unless you suffer from a health condition that affects your body fat percentage, gaining weight is a matter of consuming more calories than your body burns in a day. Depending upon your body size and metabolism, an excess of 2,270 to 3,630 calories is necessary to gain 450 grams (one pound), according to Health Services at Columbia University.

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